Can one of the Seaveys win the Iditarod, again? Andre Jute investigates.

[Part 1 of 2. Tomorrow: Who can upset the Seavey applecart?]

The Seaveys have won the last five Iditarod Sled Dog Races, father Mitch once in 2013, son Dallas four times, including a hat-trick in the last three years.

Dallas (left) was the youngest ever winner in 2012, and holds the record for the fastest time, 8d11h20m16s.

Mitch (right), who has a second win in 2004, was also second to Dallas in both 2015 and 2016, and third in 2014.

On this record, Mitch is his son’s strongest competitor.

Reflect on this: The last winner who isn’t a Seavey was John Baker in 2011, a lifetime past in a race this difficult, dangerous and uncertain.

Now, if this were a race in civilization, say a sprint or even an endurance race in a stadium before a crowd, a bet with any bookie in his right mind on a victory for either Dallas or Mitch would be odds-on (you have to bet more than the maximum you can win).

But the Iditarod is  a thousand miles of running behind a dogsled across icy Alaska, within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle.

Anyway, besides these statistical odds in favor of one  of the Seaveys, there are statistical odds against them.

Those who fancy Dallas Seavey for another victory this year, may want to consider that despite killer competitors like Susan Butcher, Martin Buser, Lance Mackey, Doug Swingley and Jeff King trying hard and consistently, a fifth victory has eluded all but one man, the legendary Rick Swenson.

The statistical odds against Mitch is that he is already the oldest man to win. On the other hand, he is tough and experienced, and his team is experienced and known to be tough, not afraid of cold and violent weather.

The biggest consideration, given couple of dozen equally hard men and women who’d dearly love to stop the Seavey train of victories, is again, as it is every year, the weather.  In 2015 Dallas came from behind to grab a victory from Aliy Zirkle in violent weather that stopped her, and she had inherited the lead when the wind blew Jeff King and his team right off the trail.We can say Dallas is a gritty competitor who never stops racing until the finish line, as we saw in 2015. We can say Dallas got lucky. We can say the weather is the same for everyone. We can say two strong competitors, Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle, were put off their stroke when last year they and their dogs were assaulted by a drunk snowmobiler. We can say all of these things.

It’s all on the one hand, and the other hand: over such a distance, under such conditions, with athletes so equally honed and determined, certainty is hard come by. So, having given you all the information to decide for yourself that, realistically, the chances of a Seavey are one in five, what would I advise a bookie to do?

Actually, I’d advise him to shorten the odds on a Seavey win, putting the chances of another Seavey win at near enough even-steven, maybe 45-55. Why?

Dogs and man mushing in perfect athletic harmony:
Dallas Seavey and his team racing across the Alaskan tundra.
Photo courtesy of Loren Holmes/Alaska Dispatch News

Well, there’s such a thing as being on a roll, and riding your luck, and the Seaveys are on a roll and have plenty of experience of riding their luck in atrociously adverse weather, of which there is a better than average chance on the Iditarod trail this year.

Also, Dallas is the most thoughtful Iditarod champion ever, as witness his carbon shed with space for carrying four dogs, and arrangements for cooking their food on the run, so that Dallas can get more time to rest at stops. Dallas isn’t an incidental racer, he lives and breathes the Iditarod year-round.

Put me down for ten bucks on Dallas making it four victories in a row, five in all.

[Part 1 of 2. Tomorrow: Who can upset the Seavey applecart?]

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute

Andre Jute is the author of Iditarod a Novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and ebook. Get it at:

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GAUNTLET RUN by Andre Jute, Dakota Franklin & Andrew McCoy

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andre_jute_singapore André operates a special page for live Iditarod race reports where you’re welcome to join him.

 

Who can win the Iditarod?

In theory any of the 85 runners can win but many know that just finishing the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race is a higher accolade than is available in almost any other sport.  Realistically, even with catastrophic lack of snow on the trail to create upsets, most literally and dangerously, the winner will come from fewer than twenty men and women.

DeeDee Jonrowe, photographed by Marianne Schoppmeyer, starting the 2012 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Such a lovely, colourful photograph, you would almost think DeeDee is setting off for a little shopping down the mall at the bottom of the road, rather than a 1200 mile tour just under the Arctic Circle.
DeeDee Jonrowe, photographed by Marianne Schoppmeyer, starting the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Such a lovely, colourful photograph, you would almost think DeeDee is setting off for a little shopping down the mall at the bottom of the road, rather than a 1200 mile tour just under the Arctic Circle.

For a start, remember this. The race is so dangerous that the organizers don’t let in anyone who doesn’t have substantial experience in lesser races, some of them as long, and some of them almost as dangerous. Though some are called “rookies”, there are no real rookies in this race. Everyone is experienced, and experience counts for a very great deal, which is how come there are so many middle-aged men among the champions and would-be champions.

Also, this is a sled dog race; the humans are there only to feed and tend the dogs. And dogs, unlike for instance horses, cannot be driven to work. If the dogs decide they’re tired or hungry or the conditions are too dangerous, they will lie down and the musher’s run will be over. It has happened, recently, to leading mushers. It can happen again.

Seavey_Dallas_2016-150x195Dallas Seavey has to be the odds-on favorite. He’s been in the top five five years in a row, with three victories and the race record. He’s a dominant musher, and you bet against him at your peril. It gets worse for every other musher. In years gone by, Dallas has “built his monster” (his own words) slowly and cautiously in the first part of the race, saving his team for a strong finish. This year, when every other musher was taking the summer off because it was too hot for the dogs to train, Dallas was building his monster inside a refrigerated truck on a treadmill long enough to take his entire team. If Dallas doesn’t need to build his monster, if he comes out of the starting blocks sprinting, he could win again.

Seavey_Mitch_2016-150x195Okay, so it’s Dallas Seavey’s race to lose. But there are a lot of hard men and women who would be only too happy to take the Iditarod away from Dallas if he makes the slightest misstep or misjudgment, for which an opportunity arises on the Iditarod every few seconds. Chief among the aspirants is Mitch Seavey, father to Dallas, himself a recent champion, and known for never giving up.

Ulsom_Joar-Leifseth_2016-150x195Royer_Jessie_2016-150x195So who do I fancy for an upset? It won’t come as much of a surprise to those of you who’ve gone to the Iditarod with me a few times now that I’ve got my money on Joar Leifseth Ulsom, the Norwegian who has finished in the top ten in every Iditarod he has run, and Jessie Royer, who has five top-ten finishes, including three in the last four years, and five further top-20 finishes.

Sass_Brent_2016-150x195Kaiser_Pete_2016-150x195Petit_Nicolas_2016-150x195Some other young guns whose time has come, and that you should take a look at, are Brent Sass, Pete Kaiser and Nicolas Petit.

King_Jeff_2016-150x195Zirkle_Aliy_2016-150x195Gatt_Hans_2016-150x195Also, you can’t discount huge depth of experience, including being champion or close runner-up, so given that they have depth in their kennels, I reckon Jeff King, Aliy Zirkle and Hans Gatt stand a good chance of featuring somewhere in the top ten.

Jonrowe_DeeDee__2016-150x195Every year we also follow an outsider but this year I want to break that pattern and follow DeeDee Jonrowe in her 34th Iditarod. DeeDee has a stack of Iditarod awards and prize money, and as recently as 2013 she was tenth, but in 2014 she scratched and last year she was 31st. The question is, is she on the comeback trail this year?

Mackey_Lance_2016-150x195Talking of comeback trails, we’ll also be looking at Lance Mackey. It wasn’t so long ago that he was joking about going straight from Champion to Red Lantern. The man has grace.

IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute
IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth by Andre Jute

Andre Jute is the author of Iditarod a Novel of the Greatest Race on Earth, available in paperback and ebook. Get it at:
eBOOKS iTunes Smashwords Kobo B&N
PAPERBACKS Createspace Amazon USA UK

andre_jute_singaporeAndre operates a special page for live Iditarod race reports where you’re welcome to join him.

Gearing up for the Greatest Race on Earth

Last year at the end of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race across Alaska, a thousand miles and a bit running behind a dog sled within spitting distance of the Arctic Circle, I noted: “The first fifteen places are filled by mushers who haven’t won before, most of them in their thirties still, and  two in their early twenties have finished in the top ten.”

And you can still hear the surprise in my tone: “Holy moses, the first Iditarod champion into Nome is Lance Mackey in 16th place, followed by Martin Buser in 18th and Rick Swenson in 20th.”

Then I asked,  “Is this the changing of the guard at the Iditarod?” By then it was not an ingenuous question. I wondered about it in 2011 when John Baker, 48, won, watching younger men pressing him hard, catching up towards the end of the race. But, while some of the more open-minded observers were willing to discuss it, quite a few with their feet planted firmly on the ground were expecting the process to last five to ten years, because “experience counts for so much in the Iditarod.”

Then Dallas Seavey, 24, won the tense 2012 race.

Not that anyone with brains thinks the old guys are finished, you understand. They are very, very hard men, and women. As I also noted last year, “Swenson heroically ran with broken collarbone since the Steps, and still finished 20th.” And in such a dangerous race, experience counts, something that can’t be said too often, so don’t discount those over technical middle age.

Aliy Zirkle, leading the 1200 mile Iditarod, cutting a corner tighty, fighting to keep her sled upright.

And don’t discount the women. In a blindingly fast race last year Aliy Zirkle ran out front for most of the race, until worn down by Dallas Seavey’s heavier dogs. In good conditions all the way — possible if not very likely by past history — Zirkle, tooled up with those fast little dogs, could get out front and stay out front.
Last year’s result included three women in the top 20:
10 Jessie Royer 58 00:23:17 10
11 Aliy Zirkle 18 01:22:31 11
12 DeeDee Jonrowe 2 01:24:17 10
After a thousand miles running behind a sled, being less than an hour and a half behind such a strong winner as Dallas Seavey is most definitely a threatening posture.

There will definitely be a woman in my shortlist of possible winners for newbies to follow. Well, actually, since the sparkling Zirkle is guaranteed a place on my shortlist, there will be women, plural in my shortlist from the entry list. Watch this space.

• Andre Jute is the author of the most beloved, prize-winning novel of this iconic race, IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth, available as an ebook for only $2.99 through the race, and also in paperback.
• Every year at the race Andre issues an open invitation to go racing with him from the comfort and safety of your armchair, with commentary provided by experts and discussion you can join in.
• This year the race starts on Saturday 2 March. Go to the nerve centre of Andre’s virtual Iditarod experience and bookmark it.

The stopwatch and the nature of action

Katie W. Stewart concludes her review of IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth with a recommendation. “It’s an old-fashioned, beautifully written adventure story that won’t disappoint any modern reader who enjoys fast-paced action. I highly recommend it.”

Thanks, Katie!

She also says in a footnote: “*If I have any criticism of the story, it would be that perhaps sometimes the action scenes were so fast that I couldn’t quite picture what was happening. However, that could have been more to do with the fact that I know nothing about sleds, snow, ice etc., rather than the writing itself.”

Thanks again, Katie.

She’s highlighting something important. Your average assault rifle (Armalite, Kalishnikov, Garand, FN) on full automatic empties its clip in four seconds, less time than it took me to write this sentence. Much less time than it took me to write that sentence.

Forget what you see in the movies. Most action in the sort of brush wars I was in as a young man, most danger even in the dangerous sports of auto racing, offshore power boat racing, trans-ocean yacht racing, and polo, which are what I once did for relaxation, was over in a fraction of a second. In real life you never see the one that gets you. Generally you react, and simultaneously you may have a thought, but mostly your brain kicks into gear after the spurt of adrenaline; what saves you is the ur-reaction that bred us to survival. The three life-threatenng events I was involved in while researching IDITAROD were all over in seconds, though in one case there was a buildup of tension lasting perhaps fifteen minutes.

In a book as loaded as IDITAROD with incidents and facts, and furthermore limited in length by extraneous factors as described in the sister piece nearby, there isn’t a whole lot of space to luxuriate in any event.

Worse, I knew that in the real race the mushers (racers) have no time to reflect on any challenge they overcame, because the next one would be on them. It is one thing for a writer to make sense of an event at leisure, it is quite another to find the quiet moment in the vortex of onrushing events which is every musher’s Iditarod to analyze something that happened, and been survived, and is past.

Thus it became a compromise between a full understanding of every event by the reader or a sense of realism. No, I didn’t even consider breaking my promise to deliver a novel with young adult crossover, which therefore would have to be kept to 80K words, nor did I for a moment consider reducing the number of incidents. Both offered more advantages than disadvantages, however tough they would make the description of each incident in the very limited space.

So, Katie, I take your point, and it struck me too when I reread the novel, twenty years after it was first published, that the writer could have been more generous with the reader who doesn’t know about sled dogs and snow and a thousand and one other elements the musher and their dog teams have to contend with — but very likely at the cost of some tension, and certainly at the cost of realism.

In the end, I think I got the balance right. I like the realism, and so do many readers, especially the Iditarod insiders. That’s worth a small price.

Readers of IDITAROD are invited to come on a virtual visit with me to the 2012 Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, starting in the first week of March. You will start off thinking that a race of about 1200 miles by dog sled must perforce be a leisurely affair. In less than an hour you will be breathless with the pace of events, and wonder how anyone can survive all the way to Nome. Check out the 2011 race at the
IDITAROD value added page to get an idea of the absolute speed of the race and how events crowd on the heels of other events so that there is hardly a moment to draw breath, never mind make a full and fair analysis.

And that’s in an armchair. Now imagine what it is like running behind a dogsled into the freezing whiteness.

See also the sister article about another matter raised by Katie’s review.
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Katie W. Stewart’s books
Katie’s review of Iditarod
Buy IDITAROD a novel of The Greatest Race on Earth
Visit the Iditarod Race with Andre